How you can avoid becoming a victim of a fake check scam -- be wary of jobs for personal assistants, mystery shoppers

Report these scams to authorities

DETROITThe Federal Trade Commission has some tips on how to spot, avoid and report fake check scams.

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many people may be looking to find jobs working from home. Scammers know this and are taking advantage of it by posting listings for a remote personal assistant job.

READ: Scammers use multiple methods to target victims -- Here’s what to watch out for

How does a fake check scam work?

During a fake check scam the thief asks the victim to deposit a check and send the money to another person. The scammer might tell the victim they can’t keep all the money because they need to buy supplies, or something else.

A fake check might look like a business or personal check, cashier’s check, money order, or an electronic check.

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Types of fake check scams

The scammer might post a job listing for a mystery shopper or personal assistant.

In the mystery shopper situation scammers pretend to hire the victim and tell them their first assignment is to evaluate a retailer that offers gift cards, money orders, or money transfer services.

The victim receives a check and is told to deposit it into a personal bank account and wire it to someone else.

In the personal assistant scenario the person will apply online and get “hired” as a personal assistant. The scammer will send a check and tell the victim to use the money to buy gift cards, equipment or supplies.

Once the scammer gets the gift card PIN numbers they use them immediately and leave the victim without money when the bank figures out the check was bad, according to the FTC.

There are other similar scenarios including scams involving car wrap decals, sweepstakes winners, and over payments. People interested in car wrap advertising are told to deposit checks and send money to decal installers who don’t exist. Sweepstakes winners are given checks and told to send money to cover taxes, shipping and handling charges but that’s not how sweepstakes work.

If you are selling something online and the person you’re selling to “accidentally” pays you too much and asks you to refund the balance, this is likely a scam. They might also ask if they can overpay so you can send the item and a gift card to an address as a “gift” to a friend or family member. Don’t do it. It’s a scam.

READ: FBI warns of ‘Money Mule’ scam to launder money through innocent, unaware people

Why do the scams work?

Fake checks usually look just like real checks, even to bank employees. The checks might even be real checks, but the money belongs to an identity theft victim. It can take the bank weeks to find out the check was fake or fraudulent.

By the time the bank figures out the check was bad the scammer has gotten away with the money and the victim is left on the hook.

How to avoid a fake check scam

Never use money from a check to send gift cards, money orders, or wire money to strangers or someone you just met.

If you’re told you’re a sweepstakes winner, but you have to pay a fee -- don’t. It’s a scam. Never accept checks or payment for more than the selling price of an item you’re selling online.

READ: Scammers using fake tests, promise of COVID-19 cures to target Metro Detroiters during pandemic

What to do if you sent money to a scammer

If you paid the scammer with a gift card, you should reach out to the company that issued the gift card immediately. Tell the company the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. You should also tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible, according to the FTC. Click here to view a list of gift cards that scammers often use.

If you wired money to a scammer you should contact the transfer company immediately and report the fraud and file a complaint. The FTC said you should ask for the money transfer to be reversed, it’s not likely they will do that but you should still ask. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-325-6000.

If you paid a scammer with a money order you need to contact the company that issued the money order immediately to see if you can stop the payment. You can also try to stop delivery of the money order by contacting the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 -- or whichever delivery service you used.

How to report fraud

If you think you’ve been targeted by a fake check scam, report it to:

READ: Reports from Local 4′s Hank Winchester

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.